I AM POSTIVELY SHOCKED BY WHAT I'm reading in this Times account of the elderly virgin conclave in Rome. To wit:
Pope John Paul II opened today's meetings with American cardinals on clerical sex scandals with a strongly worded apology to victims, but he sent conflicting signals on a proposed one-strike-and-you're-out policy for priests who abuse minors.
"People need to know that there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young," the pope said, in what several church leaders said was by far the most direct speech he has ever given on the topic. He said such sexual abuse is "by every standard wrong and is rightly considered a crime by society; it is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God."
But the pope also said: "We cannot forget the power of Christian conversion, that radical decision to turn away from sin and back to God, which reaches to the depths of a person's soul and can work extraordinary change."
This is not a good sign. The question in reasonable people's minds is What can the Church do to effectively implement a "zero tolerance" policy without depriving innocent but accused priests of their chosen careers. The Pope is still wondering whether
child abusers should be priests. I don't even know what to say about that. It's absurd. Can you imagine someone telling you that they weren't sure whether or not child abusers should be teaching school? I'm having a hard time.
After the meeting between American and Vatican church leaders, several American cardinals said they were not sure how to interpret the remarks.
"It isn't clear to me" whether the pope was saying he endorsed the zero-tolerance policy, said Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago.
"He says there's no place in the priesthood for those who harm the young, but also speaks of conversion," Cardinal George said, "so I'm not sure where that leaves us on zero tolerance, and there is no consensus" among bishops.
Cardinal George described the tone of today's first session as "very serious, even somber."
It's actually pretty clear to me what that means. It means JP II doesn't think that priests should abuse kids, but that if they do, get caught, and then say they're really, really sorry that he'll let them go back to work. This, it seems to me, is a man who's taking his religious doctring a little too seriously. Sure, any bad person might
turn his life around, but how many innocent kids' lives are we going to gamble on the efficacy of the conversion process?
At meetings that will continue on Wednesday, American bishops are looking to John Paul and other top Vatican officials for guidance as they draft national protocols on ways dioceses can prevent abuse. They will have lunch with the pope tomorrow, hope to come up with a working list of proposals by the end of the day, and intend to approve the guidelines at their national meeting in Dallas in June.
Now, figuring out how to prevent abuse is a pretty difficult problem, but a bunch of people who can't see that firing abusive priests is at least part
of the solution definitely ain't gonna crack this riddle.
As expected, church leaders addressed a number of sensitive topics in today's meetings, including the role of homosexuals in the priesthood and Catholic seminaries.
Bishop Wilton Gregory, head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that when "a homosexual atmosphere or dynamic" exists, it makes it more difficult to recruit heterosexual men to the priesthood. "It is an ongoing struggle to make sure the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men," he said.
Paradoxically, because Catholic teaching holds that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered" and that all homosexuals are called to celibacy, it follows that faithful Catholics with a homosexual orientation might well be drawn to the priestly life.
But there is no clear consensus on the issue of whether homosexuals should be ordained, or whether there is a link between homosexuality and the current scandals because a large percentage of the victims are boys.
This, I think, is a transparent attempt to change the subject. I have no real opinion on whether or not ordaining gay priests is proper Catholic doctrine. Saying that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered" strikes me as bizarre, but it wouldn't be the Catholic Church if it didn't have bizarre attitudes about sex. Nevertheless, the fact remains that we have an institution that is unclear as to whether or not kicking child abusers out of the priesthood would be a good response to child abuse but that's willing to discuss whether or not kicking gays out of the priesthood would be a good response. That's ridiculous, but not as ridiculous as this:
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., said in an interview that to him, the key issue is celibacy, whatever the sexual orientation of the priest.
No no no no no no no no no no no! The key issue is abuse
not celibacy. This isn't about whether or not abusive priests are living up to the ideal of the best Catholic life, it's about whether or not priests are living up to the moral minimum of not doing serious injury to their fellow human beings. If they can't see a distinction between offenses like child abuse and, say, murder on the one hand and personal lapses like committing homosexual acts or breaking a vow of celibacy, then there's no hope for these people.
Cardinal George, on the other hand, seemed to be drawing a moral distinction not only between priests who prey on children as opposed to those who pursue sexually mature minors — but between those who make advances toward boys as opposed to girls. "There is a difference between a moral monster like Geoghan," he said, referring to the John Geoghan, a former Boston priest accused of abusing a huge number of boys over 30 years, "and an individual who perhaps under the influence of alcohol" engages in inappropriate behavior with "a 16- or 17-year-old young woman who returns his affections."
Now there is a difference of some sort here, but this falls under the category of not the right thing to say at the moment. Note the question-begging addition of alcohol and the young woman returning the priest's affections. It is
different to do something to a "consenting" minor and to just straight-up rape someone, but what this has to do with sexual orientation is beyond me. Also this notion that the drunkeness of the assaulter excuses sexual assault is just bizarre. Maybe it's too many date rape education classes, but I'm not buying it.
Cardinal McCarrick said church leaders touched on a number of broad themes related to human sexuality in the meetings. "People mentioned problems in society," he said. "One was sexual permissiveness, one was homosexuality, one was lack of commitment."
Celibacy was a central focus, Cardinal George said, "not in questioning the rule for the church but asking how can we strengthen it."
I see, it's society
's fault. But wait -- no. It's the church's fault after all.
Cardinal Roger Mahony said today that neither he nor anyone else at the meeting had raised the issue of whether Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston should resign over his handling of sex abuse cases there.
In a possible effort to shore up support among his fellow cardinals, Cardinal Law apologized to them at a closed-door meeting on Monday night.
"He said if he had not made some terrible mistakes we would not be here," Cardinal George said. "He did not speak about resignation and nobody asked him about it."
Nor will anyone at this point, Cardinal McCarrick said. "We've passed that point in the discussions," he said. "The time for that would have been at the beginning. We're over that."
I mean, why would they discuss Cardinal Law resigning. If they don't think abusive priests should be kicked out, why should facilitators of abuse. It's not like Cardinal Law, you know, harbors homosexual desires or something really serious. And if he does, it's only when he's drunk....
The pope was in relatively good form as he delivered his speech at the meeting, several of those present said.
"I never heard him speak in such strong terms condemning sex abuse of minors by the clergy," said Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua of Philadelphia. "He had some pretty strong words about the clergy."
He also made clear that he saw the problem in part as a crisis of leadership. "Because of the great harm done by some priests and religious, the church herself is viewed with distrust, and many are offended at the way in which the church's leaders are perceived to have acted in this matter," the pope said.
Gee, I wonder why anyone would distrust the Church.
"To the victims and their families wherever they may be," the pope said, "I express my profound sense of solidarity and concern."
Amen. At last something sensible. The families and their victims probably don't need the solidarity and concern of assholes like this crew, but they've got mine and I hope it does some good.